WASHINGTON -- Corporate lobbyists are openly discussing how to sway elections while dodging "public scrutiny" and attaining "sufficient cover" for their intended practices, earning a sharp rebuke from transparency groups and commentators.
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann shed light Wednesday night on the opportunities for corporations to skirt transparency in their campaign finance practices as a result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.
"The court's ruling doesn't open up Pandora's for the big boys to buy the elections -- I was wrong about that," Olbermann said on his show Countdown With Keith Olbermann. "It opens up Pandora's for the big boys to buy the elections secretly."
Olbermann, an ardent critic of the decision since the day it was announced, mocked the Republican claim that it was largely about free speech and instead said its impact was "enabling a full corporate takeover of our elections."
"K&L Gates lobbying firm has already compiled a 1639 word guide for its corporate clients on how they can now advertise for or against individual candidates right up to election day, and, avoid the pesky risk of 'public scrutiny' by washing their campaign advertising money through third party organizations," he said.
[G]roups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.
Corporations could further lower their profile in such cases by not making contributions specific to a particular expenditure by that third-party corporation.
TPM's Zachary Roth remarked, "In other words, just use lobby associations as handy pass-throughs, to obscure from the public your involvement in the race. Simple!"
"Ah, 'sufficient cover'," responded Paul Blumenthal of the transparency group Sunlight Foundation. "Since 80% of Americans are opposed to the Citizen United ruling, this may be a great way for corporations to avoid having their names attached to electoral ads."
"It’s just great that K&L Gates is out there helping independent actors hide the vast sums of money they plan to spend on electoral advertising from the American people’s eyes," Blumenthal said.
"The goal is to keep as low a profile as possible," added Donny Shaw of OpenCongress, "and one way to do so is for corporations to form coalitions with other corporations that have the same policy interests and then contribute money to Congress collectively. That way, no corporation can be singled out."
Olbermann continued, "to get even more 'under the radar', K&L Gates advises its clients to spend on ideologically-based talk radio, web-based ads or phone banks. And it reassures them that the Supreme Court ruling permits campaigning by American firms that are subsidiaries of foreign corporations."
A recent Washington Post poll found that Americans overwhelmingly reject the ruling. Eighty percent oppose it, including 85 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents.
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Feb. 17, 2010.